It should come as no surprise that everyone who works for Gourmet Walks knows how to taste, critique, recommend, and appreciate great food. However, this casual get together that I hosted also demonstrated that the guides can also cook and bake some pretty amazing dishes. Gourmet Walks leads a number of neighborhood food tours. For example, I regularly lead weekend walking food tours tours through NoPA, Japantown, and The Fillmore. Even though I mainly do savory tours, being a devout chocoholic is a requirement for every Gourmet Walks guide. Living in Zürich, Switzerland piqued my interest in fine chocolates at a young age, so I effortlessly fulfilled this job requirement. Since moving back to San Francisco after University, I have gained an even greater appreciation for the entrepreneurial spirit of local chocolate makers in the city by the bay.
We started our repast with some chocolately appetizers. John hand-dipped 2 varietals of dried figs into Dandelion 70% dark chocolate. Using the chocolate bread from Craftsman & Wolves, he also created some melodious mini toast creations. The saccharine bites were topped with a slice of ripened plum and drizzled with white chocolate. For the savory bites, John thinly spread a pungent brie on top of the chocolate bread.
Beth went to Mission Cheese, located on Valencia Street in the Mission district, and picked up an assortment of cheeses from a variety of farms based in the U.S.. We tasted cow, sheep, and goat cheeses from this plate, along with some dried fruits and pickles.
Inspired by what was flourishing in my garden, I made an arugula salad which I tossed with some juicy watermelon and creamy goat cheese. I topped it with a vinaigrette which had orange juice, lemon juice, blood orange olive oil, and some seasoning. This bright salad deviated away from the salads I typically make to accompany my meals, but with summer approaching, I will have to include this in my salad rotation.
Andrea brought a salad from Blue Barn, which had a variety of mixed greens generously topped off with sun-dried tomatoes, marinated artichokes, grilled balsamic onion, almonds, crispy chickpeas, grated manchego & whole grain mustard vinaigrette. It astounds me how accessible artisan salads are in the Bay Area. After my trip to Alabama,where iceberg lettuce with ranch dressing was considered a salad, never again will I take for granted the salads we make here at home.
Melissa made a vegetarian, Israeli couscous dish. Large pieces of charred broccoli and cauliflower were mixed into the large pearled grains.
For the main course, Ahmet went above and beyond, preparing our main entrée for the evening. Using a bamboo steamer, Ahmet steamed the wild, line caught Pacific halibut for several minutes before plating it on a bed of baby greens (kale, spinach and chard). He garnished the halibut with two piquant salsas. Ahmet and I have both done extensive traveling through Asia, so we have a fine appreciation for spicy dishes. Our “spice scale” is definitely not calibrated to the American palate. His tomato-based, pico de gallo salsa had a good amount of heat. I especially loved the Guangxi cilantro sauce with garlic, thai chilies and olive oil. The minced cilantro added a great verdant color to the white fish. The fish serendipitously paired well with the Alsatian-esque wine that Donna brought over.
Of course, a dinner with chocolate tour guides would be pointless without some extravagant chocolate desserts. Nicole, who has recipes for her baked goods in bakeries around San Francisco, made her famous chocolate chip, macadamia nut pie. Though I am generally not partial to macadamia nuts, this pie blew me away. The buttery crust held together the sweet, crunchy, gooey pie contents. For a finishing touch, Nicole topped off the pie with Häagen-Daz vanilla bean ice cream.
Served on the same plate as the pie, Donna treated us to her 4-chocolates ganache cake. This gluten-free cake is the essence of what a great dessert should be. She used a 99% and 85% Michel Cluizel blend for the flourless base and a Dandelion Ambanja and Guittard blend for the ganache topping. Impressively, she used a double boiler method to melt the chocolate which she purchased in bar form. In lieu of white sugar, she used a natural, Grade A Maple Syrup to sweeten the dark, chocolatey cake. Sprinkled with toasted almonds and served with a dollop of fresh whipped cream, this dessert induced a chocolate coma.
Last but not least, Andrea brought some gâté comme des filles truffles to share. Flavored with Highwire Aricha Coffee, these chocolate gave me an elated caffeinated and theobromine buzz. These handmade, local truffles are made by a former pastry chef from Chez Panisse and can only be found at a few selective locations in the Bay Area. Incredibly rich and creamy, these chocolates taste as divine as they look.
As food tour guides, we take epicurean endeavors seriously, while still having a lot of fun with them. We take pride in our creations, and sharing them with others is one of our life’s greatest joys. We recognize the importance of gathering around the table, taking the time to share a meal together, and savoring each and every bite. Nothing brings people together in the same way food does; the need to consume food is something that everyone has in common. We find it rewarding to know that we shape our work around this one commonality, and hope to continue inspiring and introducing those we meet to the wonderful world of slow food.